April 1, 2010
DA failed to charge Murphy in abuse case, victim says
From: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Mar 31, 2010
McCann says cases were too old to prosecute
By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel
Advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse on Wednesday accused retired Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann of failing to prosecute a Catholic priest accused of molesting as many as 200 deaf boys, saying at least one of the cases brought to his office in the 1970s was within the statute of limitations.
Victim Gary Smith, members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and a state official said McCann's office knew in 1974 that Father Lawrence Murphy had molested Smith, a student at St. John's School for the Deaf in St. Francis, as recently as 1970, both at the school and on several trips out of state.
McCann and his then-deputy, William Gardner, say they can't recall the details of events 35 years ago but that they knew of no cases involving Murphy that were within the six-year statute of limitations at the time. And Gardner, who met with at least one group of Murphy's victims around 1974, said he does not remember Smith.
"I don't recall any of these guys being under the statute of limitations," said McCann, who doesn't recall ever meeting with victims himself and insisted his office aggressively pursued offender priests, at one point even convicting a religious brother who was later exonerated.
On Wednesday, the Milwaukee chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests released an account by Smith, written in 1974, that alleges Murphy molested him at the school from November 1963 until he graduated in 1970, and again on trips to Washington, D.C., New York and Minnesota between March and May 1970.
Speaking through an interpreter from his home in Texas, Smith said he provided the document to Gardner during a meeting in 1974, but that Gardner didn't seem interested.
"He didn't really have a whole heck of a lot to say," Smith said.
John Conway, a state counselor for the deaf and hard of hearing in 1974, said he had more than one meeting and phone conversation with Gardner about Murphy's victims, including Smith.
"We were told most of the guys were beyond the statute of limitations, so we were very clear that Gary Smith was not," said Conway, now deputy administrator for the state workers compensation program in Wisconsin.
Gardner vehemently denied the allegations.
"Those guys are making up stories," he said.
Victims have long questioned McCann's handling of clergy abuse cases, saying he failed to aggressively prosecute pedophile priests.
The allegations have resurfaced in recent days as victims around the world question the Catholic Church's handling of clergy sex abuse cases, including the decision by the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, not to take action against Murphy when asked by then-Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland in 1996.
McCann, a Catholic who now volunteers with a Catholic charity, said he prosecuted several priests and an elderly nun over the years, examined the archdiocese's files for anything that could be charged, and reviewed an attorney general's opinion to determine what if any action could be taken against the archdiocese.
SNAP director Peter Isely used the latest allegations to call on McCann to drop his opposition to the Child Victims Act, which would make it easier for victims to sue their abusers for damages and open a three-year window for old cases that were previously blocked from the courts.
McCann said he opposed the legislation in part because it would financially harm the church, ultimately affecting the poor it serves today, but also because of the possibility that older cases - with faulty memories and lack of evidence - could result in prosecution and conviction of innocent people.
"Remember I'm the guy who prosecuted an innocent man," McCann said of David Sanders, who served five months of a 15-year sentence before another man came forward in 2007.
"And that's a sobering experience."
@ 2010 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel